Wedding Photography Behind the Scenes
Shooting a Wedding in Extreme Adversity
I have photographed many weddings over the years and one thing I can say is that no two are even remotely the same and they are never routine. On the surface weddings are they are what they are and I’m sure for the most part they appear from the outside to run smoothly… However every now and again there is a challenge that will tax your capabilities and endurance as a photographer. There are many wedding days I will never forget, like the one where I had both my main camera’s shutter fail… And my backup body’s shutter fail… And then my second backup wouldn’t power up at all (thank God I’m paranoid and had a third backup)…
But the one I think that takes the cake….
The October 2007 California wildfires were a series of wildfires that began burning across Southern California on October 20… On October 21 at 2:00 pm I had a wedding to shoot at the Wedgewood banquet center in Ventura, California. On my way to meet the bride at the salon where she was getting ready for the wedding it was apparent this was going to be a difficult day. The weather was unseasonably hot, traffic was bad and ash was raining down from the sky.
I had just left the “Bride to be” in Downtown Ventura after photographing her getting ready. By 1:00 pm on the wedding day it was nearly as dark as night. Driving from Downtown Ventura to the event site was actually very difficult, because of the smoke and ash the headlights weren’t much help. I shot the image on the left just as I arrived at the site at about 1:30 pm. The original wedding plan was to have the wedding ceremony on the golf course lawn (just beyond the windows in the image on the left) and when I arrived at the banquet center, to my amazement that’s where they were setting up the chairs and Chuppah (a wedding arch). There was less than an hour until the ceremony was due to start. I snatched up the coordinator and said “this thing really needs to be moved indoors”. It didn’t take much convincing but time was getting short. I had the officiate call the bride and told her to delay her arrival.
This wedding was planned to be a simple and brief event during the day and my intent was to shoot it in existing light, as such I had carried only minimal lighting. It was obvious that the situation had changed drastically and because it was so dark I called and had my assistant pick up lighting equipment and deliver it to me. After the ceremony we briefly ventured outside to shoot a few images on the lawn, the “spots” you see here are from the ash raining down. This image was shot at about 4pm. The smoke and ash was so heavy my eyes were just about melting and running down my face along with everyone else’s in the wedding party. Shortly after this picture we all ran inside like a bunch of tear gas attack refugees.
Wedding Photo Salvaged Moments
With a little luck (there was a very brief clearing of the smoke that afternoon) and some heavy post production I was able to shoot and create this image along with a few others of both the bride and groom out on the golf course lawn.
The environment inside where the ceremony and reception took place was not too bad all things considered. but the ambient window light was a “hellish” burnt orange. I set up four 1000w mono-lights to bounce off the walls and ceiling and fired them remotely with a radio flash trigger. These were set up in a flurry with very little metering and testing… I pretty much had to guess at it all and make exposure adjustments on the fly, luckily I pretty much guessed right and to make up for the margin of error I just panicked and shot an awful lot and bracketing all the shots.
At the end of the evening after packing the camera equipment up and stowing it in my car I just sat on the steps for a while it had cooled down quite a bit and the sky had cleared a little and the moon light made the ash look like a blanket of snow, the whole day was honestly one of the strangest I have ever experienced. The clean up of all the equipment took days and I had to send both camera bodies in for service along with several of my lenses because the smoke and ash was so heavy at times it had permeated the seals.
All in all the wedding turned out to be quite a success, there was a joy and camaraderie that otherwise would have not been present if it were not for the sense of pressing on in the face of disaster and I for one will not ever forget it.